Living the Irish Life


Walk The Blue Fields, by Claire Keegan

Story collections can be intriguing and ground breaking: witness James Joyce’s
. They can also be more than the sum of their parts as well; they can operate under an overarching theme. Or they can be simply a series of disconnected stories with a common setting.

The latter is the case with Walk The Blue Fields. Keegan uses rural Ireland as her palette, allowing her richly drawn characters to walk across rural Ireland within the drama of Irish life that seems as old as the hills and gorse themselves. Her dialogue is subtle, filled with a wit that sometimes despairs, at other times is filled with the energy of life. Sometimes, however, her stories turn corners that end in blind alleys, but even then her writing style compels.

My rating: 17 of 20 stars


History Has A View From The Ground, Too


The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

This is a difficult book to dislike – I tried, unsuccessfully. Hannah’s writing is uneven; in places it reads like a Harlequin, in others like the best literature. Perhaps this was a difficult book to write; the author admits to something like that in her Acknowledgements section.

But the story:

Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol, two young and beautiful French women, are functionally abandoned by their father and Vianne’s husband during the onset of the German conquest of France during WWII. Their money soon runs out, and the German occupiers become harder, more demanding. As the war wears on in the east, the two sisters take different paths to resistance. Vianne shelters Jewish children and Isabelle finds and hides Allied pilots who have been shot down, and then she guides them over the Pyrenees, where they can escape to safety. Finally the war is over, Vianne pregnant from a German rapist, Isabelle sick and deranged from her time in a women’s concentration camp, and they find rebuilding their lives all but impossible.

What Hannah has done here is to drop far below the normal scope of history, its facts and panorama, to the level at which humanity truly exists. At this level, emotions govern; they bind together despite the tortuous divisions of war. They help to heal, where the larger society has no potency. This is the true level of reality, and Hannah succeeds in depicting it. While the book’s flaws, the writer’s sometimes sketchy skills, diminish the story somewhat, at book’s end Hannah’s writing rises to the highest emotional levels of which such a book is capable. Her story of the near-invisible, un-thanked role of women during WWII is an admirable one, and it’s for this reason that this book should be read, over and over.

My rating: 15 of 20 stars

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How To Start A War

This review is posted on the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11 – – Ed.


Dead Wake – The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson

Writers who decide to take on a story such as this one will sit for a while, thinking, How do I tell this? What’s worth the research, the telling? Much of such stories have already appeared in the press at the time of the ship’s sinking, so is a retelling worth the trouble? I would have to say that for the sake of history it is indeed worth telling to a new generation. Too, Larson gives us a bit of both (or many) sides of the story, i.e., the part experienced by the Lusitania’s passengers, that of the German submarine commander who put this amazing ship on the ocean bottom, and some of the political machinations surrounding the Lusitania on both sides of the Atlantic.

The story takes place in early 1915 amid the horror and carnage of World War I. Germany, clearly in a military bind, decides its way of evening the odds is to concentrate its submarine fleet on Atlantic shipping, which is bringing all sorts of materiel and ordnance to the Allies, largely by civilian transports. And these civilian transports are also carrying civilians, American civilians in particular, and the U.S. is scrupulously avoiding this war.
Through a series of coincidences Unterseeboot-20, captained by daring and dashing Walther Schwieger, launches a torpedo at the Lusitania on May 7, 1915, hits a vital spot, and within minutes the ship is sunk.

That this sinking killed over a thousand passengers and crew and established a prelude for the U.S.’s entry into the war is only one vital issue among several. The ship was considered as invincible as the Titanic, and the action established the submarine as a most effective tool of war in the early twentieth century. Too, the British Admiralty, led by Winston Churchill, proved all too adept at circumventing responsibility for protecting the ship and blaming the sinking on its captain, William Thomas Turner. Almost as a sidebar, Larson includes the death of Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, his falling in love almost immediately with Edith Bolling Galt, their subsequent marriage, and his final decision to accept war behind the militant baying of the American Congress.

Larson’s prose here is journalistic at times, elegant as the best fiction at others, but he has told a story that can be seen as a cautionary tale of events leading to war—a tale that is almost always of actions both fumbling and premeditated.

My rating: 17 of 20 stars

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

The Poet’s Place

We here at Gridley Fires have been grossly neglectful when it comes to presenting poetry. In an attempt to atone for that, we’ve asked the very talented poet, Jane Curran, to write something for the blog. As poets will do, she surprised us with the imaginative piece below. It’s not a poem, but it’s all about the power and precariousness of poets and their work.


Late breaking news headline from The Rush County (IN) Gazette:

Minor Poet Jailed. Poems confiscated.

A minor poet was arrested and jailed today, charged with writing poems described as seditionist with the intent of rousing townspeople to acts of justice and subversions of the dominant paradigm.

The poet was arraigned on three specific charges:

Her poems are real (cite the poem about an America with no people of color); disturbing (cite the poem about a dead child, beaten to death by her mother’s boyfriend); life-like (cite the poem about an old man whose daughter left him alone for four days without food or water).

At her hearing the poet pled guilty, citing precedents of samizdat* in the former Soviet Union where dissidents churned out poems of resistance against the grey horror of their time. The accused poet remarked, “The recipe is a tiny kitchen, a typewriter and oppression laced with injustice. Stew ingredients for too long and feast on the full force of rebellion.”

The accused further stated, “If I have written one line, one word worth such risk, I have fulfilled my calling to the art of poetry. In the past poets were jailed, sent to gulags or disappeared in the prisons of Argentina for a few lines of poetry that set their worlds on fire. They seared their oppressors, the big players with big money, and stood under indictment.”

The charges against this poet were thrown out for lack of evidence. This reporter thought she heard the judge say “lack of interest”.

The judge commented that “the idea that a poet is a danger to today’s society is laughable, if not ridiculous. This defendant exhibits no threat to our social order. Case dismissed.”

*a Russian word referring to self published books of poetry, philosophy or political writings,     typed five to six carbons thick for distribution underground